Many couples have this question when first contemplating couples counseling. After several weeks and many arguments, they decide to seek help. The couple goes to my website, schedules an appointment, walk into my office, sit down and literally ask me to pick a side.
Early in my career I would assess this couple as doomed! I would do what I could to buy them some time before the inevitable break up, but at that time that’s all I had to offer. The minute I choose a side, the other is justified in believing their innocence. Ten years and many couples later I now know that this type of couple is not asking for help, they are asking for permission to break up.
When the question of marriage worth saving is broached now, I squarely look them both in the eye and admit, “I do not know”. The question I offer the couple requires them to look in the mirror and ask “How much work am I willing to put in to save this marriage, and how honest can I be to my partner?” The other side of the coin is also important; what if the marriage is not worth saving? Then what? It’s not up to the professional to decide whether a marriage is worth saving or not, it’s up to the couple. Their self-motivations, hidden agendas and tolerances are better barometers of their ability to survive this rough patch. Consider these common phrases: “My husband/wife doesn’t listen to me, or puts their biological child ahead of me.” or My husband/wife lets the children get away with too much!” Then they may add “And unless they get their stuff together we are not going to make it!” Once this negative thinking is fully manifested and communication breaks down, the couple has entered into a very tenuous cycle of doubt, fear and confusion. But couples that take inventory of their own needs and ways to improve themselves have a better chance of salvaging their relationship and staying together. My role as their therapist is to encourage them to begin the work as well as being their cheerleader when revelations or behavioral changes occur. So, the next time you ask yourself “Is my marriage worth saving?” know that what you are really asking for is permission to call it quits.